'Yorkshire Ripper' must die behind bars: British court

16th July 2010, Comments 0 comments

The "Yorkshire Ripper", one of Britain's most notorious serial killers, must spend the rest of his life in jail, the High Court ruled Friday, in a decision welcomed with relief by victims' relatives.

Peter Sutcliffe was convicted in 1981 of murdering 13 women and attempting to murder seven others in Yorkshire and in Manchester, northern England in an extremely high-profile case.

He received 20 life sentences and is detained at Broadmoor high-security psychiatric hospital in southeast England.

The 64-year-old, now known as Peter Coonan, applied to have a minimum term set to give him the chance of parole, but his bid was rejected.

Judge John Mitting ruled that "early release provisions" were "not to apply" in the case.

The judge said he had based his decision on the "moving accounts of the great loss and widespread permanent harm" made by relatives of six murdered victims.

"This was a campaign of murder which terrorised the population of a large part of Yorkshire for several years," he said.

"The only explanation for it, on the jury's verdict, was anger, hatred and obsession.

"Apart from a terrorist outrage, it is difficult to conceive of circumstances in which one man could account for so many victims.

"Those circumstances alone make it appropriate to set a whole life term."

Richard McCann, the son of the Yorkshire Ripper's first victim Wilma, expressed relief at the verdict.

"We no longer have to live with that cloud of uncertainty over whether or not he would be released," he told the BBC.

Freeing Sutcliffe "is just unthinkable", he said.

The "Ripper" has been viciously attacked in jail, losing the sight in his left eye in one attempt to murder him -- and some believe he could become a potential target for violent ex-convicts looking for a trophy victim if freed.

Olive Smelt was attacked by Sutcliffe in 1975 and needed brain surgery after he hit her twice with a hammer.

"It's as well for him that he does have to remain in," said her husband Harry.

"Think of what would happen if one of the prisoners outside got to him and could say 'I'm the one who got Peter Sutcliffe'. He could live off that for the rest of his life."

Sutcliffe's original trial judge said he must serve a minimum of 30 years behind bars -- a period which expires next year.

The truck driver's murderous campaign against prostitutes and young women between 1975 and 1980 sparked widespread fear across the country until he was arrested in January 1981.

He would batter women over the head with a hammer and stab them in the chest and abdomen with a knife or a screwdriver.

The court bid revolved around a November 2006 medical report by Doctor Kevin Murray, who is treating Sutcliffe.

Murray said it was his "blunt and firm conclusion" that the 1981 verdicts of guilty to murder were wrong.

If verdicts of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility had been accepted by the prosecution or returned by the jury, then Sutcliffe could have been sentenced to an unlimited stay in psychiatric hospital.

But at the High Court in London, Mitting said he had "no doubt" that the appropriate term was a whole life sentence.

The "brutality and gravity of the offences speak for themselves", he said.

The diagnoses of psychiatrists who had considered Sutcliffe's mental condition was that he was "suffering from encapsulated paranoid schizophrenia when he committed the crimes and that his responsibility for the 13 killings was, in consequence, substantially diminished," the judge said.

"These propositions were, however, unquestionably rejected by the jury," he added.

The judge added: "He has been well-behaved and has posed no threat to other inmates.

"Jehovah's Witnesses who have befriended him for over 15 years are emphatic that he now shows remorse for his crimes."

© 2010 AFP

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